Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Adiós, José Ramón Larraz (1929-2013)

Spanish writer-director José Ramón Larraz has passed away at the presumed age of 84. News of his hospitalization was circulated a week or two ago, but no cause of death has yet been announced. Horror fans who came of age in the 1970s remember Larraz as one of the most exciting new European voices of that decade. He began his career as a graphic artist and cartoonist. Like his compatriot Jess Franco, he left Spain at the height of Franconian oppression to create his art under freer conditions; unlike Franco, who gravitated to France, Larraz went to London. His works, marked by morbid themes and often explicit violence and carnality, include WHIRLPOOL (1970, possibly the first X-rated horror film released in the United States -- released one week before Franco's EUGENIE... THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION -- and an obvious influence on Wes Craven's THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT), DEVIATION (1971), SYMPTOMS (1975, arguably his best film), the erotic terror classic VAMPYRES (1974, for which he recorded a memorable audio commentary when it was issued on DVD and Blu-ray by Blue Underground) and THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED (1974). He was often credited on these films under such names as J.R. Larrath or Joseph Braunstein. After this, when creative freedom was permitted once again in his country, he returned to his homeland, where he made such films as THE COMING OF SIN (1978), STIGMA (1980), THE NATIONAL MUMMY (1981), BLACK CANDLES (1982), REST IN PIECES (1987) and DEADLY MANOR (1990), which did not receive the same level of international exposure. He was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 Sitges Film Festival and the subject of a documentary, ON VAMPYRES AND OTHER SYMPTOMS, directed by Celia Novis in 2011. A major figure, whose passing comes as a major loss to Spanish culture, especially as it follows so soon the recent deaths of Jess Franco and Bigas Luna.

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